Halloween Horror Movie Binge: Some Practical Considerations by Professor L. Yochum of the Villains Live University

To the student body of VLU…it’s nearly time.

As you know, it’s nearly October. And as well know, October is the month long celebration of all things spooky. Speaking personally,  I find it endlessly satisfying to spend the month immersed up to the metaphorical gills in horror. This time of year clearly gives us the best candies, best decorations, and most enjoyable music.

But a sincere horror binge is not something that can be done willy-nilly. While I might personally bristle at the thought of someone telling me how to GET SPOOKY, it does pay to have a plan. I therefore have a proposal. I would like to lay down some simple guidelines for the coming season.

Media binging is obviously not a new concept. Since the arrival of wide-spread on-demand media, many prefer to not absorb media in episodic format. Consider for a moment how many times you or a loved one have spent an entire weekend watching one show. Binging is applicable to film franchises, premier TV, even podcasts! But Halloween media is more than mere movies. Halloween media is multi-disciplinary, multi-platform media.  As such, our approach must be multi-faceted.  

 

Part One: Right Environment

When is it appropriate to watch a horror movie, much less many horror movies? Should the room be dark? And should you have your phone nearby? The greatest minds of the 20th and early 21st century have been debating this since the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (My intensive, evidence-based research of Google has shown that the first Blu-Ray of The Cabinet in 1955 caused quite a furor.)  A comprehensive recipe for optimal binge-watch environments is outside the scope of this brief lecture. However we should acknowledge some possibilities for this upcoming season.

For example: should a film prominently featuring daytime scenes be watched during the day or the night? Or whether or not snacks/beverages will improve a film going experience. Silly as such small contrivances may seem, they are questions worth addressing.

Many horror purists, such as The Scaredy Cats podcast, have put down the rules that horror movies must be watched at night, uninterrupted, without the presence of phones. And while I respect the expertise of the podcast’s hosts, I respectfully argue that this approach is ultimately incorrect. All of this is good for a singular film, but it is not feasible if you are planning on watching multiple films in a single sitting. I would argue that the film should match the environment as best as possible.  Black and White classics such as the original Night of The Living Dead are best absorbed at night, where the desaturated colors are easier on the eyes, and immersive in their tones.  Phantasm, on the other hand, lends itself to early evening on the account of it’s surreal, hallucinatory tone.

And to the point of refreshments, I wholeheartedly endorse their consumption during film during any film, and especially during a binge. The longer your experience goes, the greater your need for supplemental nutrition will become. Furthermore Halloween binging is a pre-written excuse for consumption of Halloween candy and themed cocktails or sodas. Again: multi-disciplinary and multi-media.

 

Part Two: Franchise vs. Curated List

So what are we watching? Astute students of horror will know the stress of attempting to have the right films for the occasion.  So should you give in to the simple desire to pick a pre-arranged franchise of films, or should you do something more personally intensive?

This decision seems to be largely a matter of the time you have available to freely dedicate. For instance, one could easily spend nearly half a month dedicated the Halloween franchise.  At 13 films, this offers you a seemingly simple guidepost.  Or if you want this time frame more compacted, there are 10 Hellraiser films.  That is an easy way to spread a massive dose of horror over a mere handful of days.

However, that approach has it’s flaws. Academic communities have raged with argument over whether or not Halloween 3 should be included in the canon of the Halloween franchise. And that says nothing of the religious schisms caused by the Hellraiser entries that de-emphasize Doug Bradley as Pinhead.  

As an alternative, curated lists of films are an option with profound flexibility.  One could easily create a list such as “Roger Corman Productions,” or “Slashers from the 70s and 80s only.” This list approach offers a profound degree of personalization options. The exchange, however, is in that it requires time and effort to create these sorts of lists, whereas film franchises have strict guidelines.

 

Part Three: 31 for 31

Arguably the greatest challenge available for horror fans is the 31 Days of Halloween, or sometimes called “31 for 31.” Put simply, the goal is to watch 31 horror movies in the month of October, potentially watching a single horror film every day of the month of October. Like the pre-hibernation eating of bears to the onset of Winter, this approach offers horror fans the ability to carry a dose of Spooky with them throughout the remainder of the year.

But 31 for 31 is a daunting challenge.  It requires dedication and grit.  Students of VLU are no doubt accustomed to the rigors of serious horror study. (See my maddening discussion of Folk Horror, if you have somehow shaken off the trauma of that initial experience by now…and stop emailing me to pay your therapy bills.  The Court’s Orders are clear in their rejection of your claims.)  The decision to watch this amount of horror is reserved for either the foolhardy or most iron willed.

As such, your trusted professor has decided to undertake this challenge.  I set down some simple parameters for my attempt.

  • The films on the list must represent a broad stroke of genres and time periods.
  • The list should be a mix of familiar favorites and films I’ve never seen.
  • Roughly half of the list must be at the suggestion of my most esteemed colleagues.
  • No direct sequels. Thematic sequels are acceptable, but numbered/titled sequels are stictly forbidden.

As such, I present the Professor Yochum 31 for 31 Challenge of 2020.  This list is in a mostly random order, and presented as a way to cover as much ground in a month as is possible.

  1. Colour Out Of Space
  2. Midsommar
  3. Event Horizon
  4. Videodrome
  5. The Platform
  6. Audition
  7. Circle
  8. Suspiria
  9. Inferno
  10. The Spiral
  11. Halloween
  12. #Alive
  13. Castle Freak
  14. Nosferatu
  15. Mandy
  16. The Mummy (the Boris Karloff original)
  17. Dark Water
  18. The Ninth Gate
  19. Tigers Are Not Afraid
  20. Phantasm
  21. Chopping Mall
  22. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
  23. The Witch
  24. The Wicker Man
  25. Night Of The Living Dead (original)
  26. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  27. As Above, So Below
  28. Ju-On: The Grudge
  29. The Changling
  30. Horse Girl
  31. Hell House LLC

So, to our dear students, we here at VLU look forward to hearing how you intend to spend the month of October.  Please remember to share your notes with fellow students.

House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The next film I went back and revisited as part of the Dark Castle series was House on Haunted Hill.  This was the first film Dark Castle did and for me it still holds up.  I can see the flaws in it such as pacing, and now some dated CGI effects but the story itself is still entertaining.  I really like the cat and mouse game this movie sets up between Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) and his lovely wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen).  Everyone else is just unwilling participants in this odd game they have created to frighten and kill each other.

Opening the movie with the claymation credits while Marilyn Manson’s remake of Sweet Dreams plays does a good job of setting the overall feel and atmosphere of what’s to come.  Once the movie begins it goes off with a bang as all Dark Castle movies do.  We are shown an insane asylum where a doctor is clearly performing experiments on the patients.  He is performing surgery with no anesthetic while a nurse films the whole thing.  That alone is terrifying and disgusting.  Somehow though, it’s never really explained, the patients get out of their rooms and run amok through the asylum.  Just as the good Dr. Vanacutt (Jeffrey Combs) is about to die he throws a switch that locks everyone inside.  Mayhem ensues and we quickly learn that all but 5 people die inside that hospital.  It’s additionally not explained how these 5 people got out.  Called out sick that day perhaps?

In the first fifteen minutes of the film, we learn about the history of the house, about the Price’s messed up relationship, and set the scene for what will be the rest of the movie.  It’s a lot to cover in a condensed time span but they do an excellent job of it.  It never feels rushed but still conveys all of the necessary information.  We then arrive at the house and it’s beautifully imposing sitting on the cliffs somewhere in California.

Vandecutt Asylum for the Criminally Insane

Now the fun can begin.  The guests arrive to a very panicked and frantic man named Pritchett (Chris Kattan) and he clearly wants to get his money, and leave.  This is the first time we see everyone together and start to get a feel for who they all are. In typical form for Dark Castle, this movie has an amazing cast.  We have Eddie (Taye Diggs), Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), Sara (Ali Larter), and Melissa (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras).  These four with Pritchett and their wonderful hosts the Prices make up the cast of characters for the rest of the movie.  Whoever the casting director was for this movie does not get enough credit.  Every actor is perfectly cast for the role they play.

House on Haunted Hill Cast

From here on out it’s a question of what’s real and what’s not.  Stephen absolutely has rigged the place with fake scares but there are real ghosts moving about as well.  This is what I ultimately love about this film.  It’s beautiful, it has believable twists and turns and you’re never 100% sure if someone is dead, or faking it.  That is until you see them dismembered.  Then it’s safe to say their dead.

The shots of ghosts and the supernatural are beautiful in this film.  It’s almost experimental filmmaking at times with how they portray the ghosts and shot the scenes of fright.  Visually I find it fascinating and the cinematography keeps me hooked in.  The visuals of the spirits are my favorite part of this film and I have genuinely watched people jump and get further from the television when Dr. Vannacutt shakes his head rapidly on his way to get Evelyn.  It’s chilling and if I ever saw that myself I would scream in terror.

Haunted Hill Spirtis

My one criticism of this movie is that the ending was a bit rushed.  It feels like the writer wasn’t sure what to do and then in the final 10 minutes just says “And now chaos” for no reason but to kill a bunch of people off.  It destroys the atmosphere and probably could have been handled better.  It’s a rather unsatisfying and messy ending.

It was nice to revisit this film and still enjoy it as much as I remember.  I would recommend this to most people and overall I find that the positives of this film far outweigh the cons of a rushed ending.  Everybody turns in an incredible performance and I particularly enjoyed Geoffrey Rush playing a very clear homage to Vincent Price.  He was incredible and every scene he was in had an extra oomph to it.  It’s been 20 years and I still love this movie.  What did you think of it though?  Did you enjoy this film, feel like it was just okay or hate it?  Let me know in the comments.  I’d love to hear your take on The House on Haunted Hill.

Ghost Ship Poster

Ghost Ship

Ghost ship is my guilty pleasure.  This film was largely hated on by critics and didn’t blow up the box office.  It’s a fairly standard 90’s film (even if it did come out in 2002) that is half horror/half rock music promotion.  It was put out by Dark Castle entertainment, and I gotta say, that in it’s early years I loved everything that Dark Castle put out.  House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts, House of Wax (which I tried very hard to hate) but there was this imaginative fun to all of their films.  Ghost ship wasn’t even that original because it’s basically Event Horizon only at sea.  Seriously, there are way to many parallels between these films and admittedly Event Horizon is the better film.  I just can’t quit on Ghost Ship so let’s  go through why I love this film.

First, the beginning to this film is ICONIC!!!  The credits come up on the screen while ballroom music is being played live.  It feels more like love boat or something.  Even the font choice in the opening credits is very un-scary.  I’m not 100% what the thought was here but I suspect it was to put people at ease.  Little did the audience know but  *SPOILER ALERT* all but one person is getting sliced by a steel cable.  Even though this clip skips past the weird font choice, watch it and tell me this doesn’t grab you.

It’s one of the greatest openings to a film ever in my opinion.

The second thing I love about this film is a great cast that has Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne.  I realize that the script they signed on to do was not at all the film that they made but I gotta hand it to them that they still turned in great performances.  Everybody in this film is believable, likable and people you generally want to root for.  Well except for one but you have to see the movie to know which one.  They all play off of each other so well that you feel for this crew.  Sure they want to salvage the ship for profit but who doesn’t want to get rich for under sea treasure?  Right??

The last thing I love about this movie is that the flashback scene in it is stylistically interesting while telling a lot of information.  Flashback scenes can really ruin a movie.  You tell to much then nothing is left to the imagination.  Tell to little though and everybody is asking a lot of  questions at the end.  I felt that this movie told just enough to keep the mystery, while filling in the gaps when necessary.  It’s fun and we get a sense for who the real villains are.  We find out what really happened to that little girl left surviving at the end of of the cable slicing.    It’s a trip and one I enjoyed taking.  The plot is hokey at times (soul collector? really?) but overall I have fun watching it and never tire of seeing it.  Not every horror movie has a lot of what I call rewatchability to it.  Sometimes when you know what’s going to happen, it loses it’s luster.  This movie continues to entertain even when I know what’s coming next.  That’s what Dark Castle always did best in the beginning.  It delivered on films that got my imagination running at full speed.  I could see myself in these scenarios and wonder how I would do in them (for sure I would die in Ghost Ship).  What I’m really saying is buckle in because I am absolutely writing about the other Dark Castle Entertainment films next.

What did you think about Ghost Ship?  Love it, hate it, more mudvayne, less mudvayne?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!